Christmas Present to Myself

A couple of days ago my computer started acting weird again. First I got a message that my hard drive was maxed out. Couldn’t load anything more onto it which seemed strange since all my big items like videos, photos, that sort of thing are on a separate hard drive. I went to the control panel and deleted a bunch of stuff that I never or rarely used and gained just under 6 gigs of free space. Then a couple of days later when I’d put the cursor over something it would strobe like crazy and when I’d go to turn the computer off the little sign thingy would come up and disappear before I could click “turn off” so I’d end up hitting the on/off button until I could crash the thing and get it to shut off.

Yesterday I went down to the local PriceSmart (sort of a Costco big box store). They had a Sony Vaio there with a 500 gig hard drive and a lot more RAM than the old computer had and it had an English keyboard which meant the operating system would be in English. Panama, of course, is a Spanish-speaking country and the keyboards and operating system are Spanish-oriented. It’s easy to spot a Spanish keyboard. Just to the right of the “L” key on our English QWERTY keyboards, where the colon and semi-colon key is found, the Spanish keyboard has an “ñ” and the colon key is somewhere else though I never bother to look for it. The upper row of keys is our beloved QWERTY but there are some other subtle differences. I found those out when I used Spanish keyboards at some of the cyber cafes when I was first visiting Panama. Using them is a bit different from what we’re used to. For example, when you try and log into your email account as in “” there is a convoluted, three-key sequence that requires you to hold your tongue in a certain way or the @ sign won’t appear. Then you have to find some kid sitting nearby working on their Facebook page to show you how to do it.

Well, this wonderful unit was available for $829 plus 7% sales tax. Would have set me back $887.03. Hmmm. Let me think about this for a little bit. But one rule of thumb for buying anything here in Panama is if you see it, buy it immediately because it probably won’t be around the next time you visit the store. Never the less, I decided to wait.

Back at home I was still having problems with the old computer. It is, after all, about six years old. The CD drive will still READ a disc but it’s been nearly two years since it would burn one. However I was thinking about that $887.03. The .03 was what was bothering me. So, in desperation I bit the bullet, made sure all the important stuff was on the external hard drive and I killed the old machine and took it back to the factory settings. It wasn’t the first time I did that on that machine. I had to do it six or seven months ago, too.

About thirty minutes after reading the message that said “Are you really sure you want to do this you ignorant butt-wipe, YOU?” the computer was back to the factory settings except for one thing…there was still, for some reason, only a little less than 6 gigs of free space on the hard drive. Of course, going back to the original settings wiped out all the bookmarks I had on the web sites I visit. That wasn’t an outrageously horrible problem since I’d been meaning to go through and delete probably 85 to 90 percent of them, anyway. You know how it is, you visit a site, enjoy it, bookmark it and never go back there after a week of so has gone by.

Then as I started the laborious process of visiting all the web sites I go to on a daily basis to bookmark them all over again I though, “this is stupid. Why not go get that Vaio at PriceSmart and put these into a NEW computer? Besides, it’s Christmas time. Why not give yourself a present?”

I needed to go to the bank, anyway, so I got up early this morning and went into David and to the HSBC branch at the Plaza Terronal. There are FOUR different stores there that sell computers so I thought I’d go check them out and see if they had any English-centric models before slogging back to PriceSmart which is actually on the bus route back to Boquerón. After visiting the bank for my monthly withdrawal I dropped into a place called Panafoto. They sell just about everything that has a cord attached to it from toasters to washing machines, stoves and refrigerators and, of course, computers. I stopped to look at the Vaios to see what they were priced at in comparison to the one I’d seen yesterday. They were all a little under the PriceSmart model but they were all Spanish-keyboard models. A sales person asked me if I needed any help and I said I was wondering if they had any laptops with English keyboards. (Keyboard in Spanish is “el teclado” which is easy enough to remember if you link it to the word “tickle” and doesn’t a piano player “tickle the ivories?”

“Yes,” he said, an HP.” Actually he said, “Si, una HP (achie pay) because he only spoke Spanish. He took me to the HP display and there was a Pavilion g6-1b70us notebook. Like the Vaio it has a 500 gig hard drive (five times the capacity of my old unit) and 8 gig of memory. A 15.6” screen and all for only $639.95, which, after sales tax, is $202.28 less than the Vaio. That’s  one month’s rent and a month’s worth of electricity. One tends to think along those lines when living on a fixed income.

Naturally, when I got back home, I checked out what I could buy the same unit for in the States. could get it to me for $578.99 which is $60.96 less but I have no idea how much shipping it would have cost so it probably would have cost more than what I paid for it here in Panama. At B&H Superstore it would cost $449.95 after a $50 mail-in rebate (and we know how well THOSE work out). That’s $234.80 less, but when you factor in the round trip from David to Panama City, two nights in a hotel plus air fair to and from Miami, I don’t think I’d save a thing.

For any reader who might be inclined to say, “yeah, but the Sony is a better computer than an HP, yada, yada, yada,” let me just say this is the FOURTH HP that I’ve bought; a desktop and two other notebooks. I drove all three of them into the ground after several years of hard use. I’ve had no complaints about the HP computers and I see no big reason to change.

Which brings me to a story I’ve told here, before, but it’s a good story so I’ll tell it again.

Back at the turn of the year 1974/75 I was working, and freezing my tender young ‘nads off, as a head-hunter in Chicago for a firm that specialized in recruiting and placing computer professionals. Heads of IT departments, systems analysts, that sort of thing. That was back when a computer was a behemoth that took up whole FLOORS of office buildings and were serviced by acolytes in lab coats working in conditions where you could store sides of beef. They were kept so cold because of the heat the machines generated.

One day I did a cold call to a guy who worked at Hewlett-Packard.

After getting his name, scholastic and work background covered I asked him, “So, what are you working on now?”

“Oh,” he said, “it’s real exciting. We’re working on a project for making mini-computers.”

“Mini computers? What the hell are those.”

“There going to be small computers that people will have right on their desks,” he enthused with the fervor of a true believer.

“Yeah, sure thing,” I said to myself. “A computer people will have on their desks.”

“Well, good luck with that,” I said as I cut the interview short without uttering the word “asshole” out loud. “Let me know how that works out for ya.”

As I said, this is my FOURTH mini computer.


Filed under Living Abroad, Retirement, Retirement Abroad

3 responses to “Christmas Present to Myself

  1. Well, Merry Christmas to you! And I’m glad Santa’s such a good comparison shopper.

    Now, here’s your joke of the day – and I’m giving you full permission to laugh at me. I just figured out what a QWERTY keyboard is. I – uh – never really had looked at my keyboard. Since I was taught touch typing in high school and honed my skills in those danged secretarial jobs that most girls had, I’ve just never paid much attention for years.

    My only problem was when I got my laptop. There are a few command keys that are different on it, and until I figured it out I was poofing pages right and left. Now, I just have to concentrate a bit when I make the switch.

    Love the story of the computer developer. Who knew? I mean, when I think now of my first computer, with its CRT monitor, it’s hard to believe this thin monitor I have now. And of course there are those smart phone thingies and all that. But, I’m content with my PC and the laptop. The laptop isn’t exactly portable, except in a formal sense, but I bought it to be a replacement computer in case of hurricane devastation, so I wanted a big screen. I suppose there might be a smaller Mac that would do the trick, but I’m like you – cost is more than a passing consideration. So I’ll just keep trucking with what I have.

    I’ll bet you’re having fun, though.

    Having no television, and no plans on getting one, either, the computer is my main source of entertainment. I’m glad I bought this one. Of course getting used to using the Windows 7 system after about eight years of Windows XP is taking some getting used to. Don’t know if I like it or not. NEW is NOT a synonym for BETTER or IMPROVED! It just means it’s NEW.

  2. Rick Rueter

    I’ve found that NEW usually means DIFFERENT, and in the case of products, often INFERIOR. The computer industry, all of it as far as I’m concerned, uses NEW (in the short term at least) as a means of rendering old products obsolete, often forcing the consumer to upgrade at significant expense, and untold frustration discovering how the changes work. Files generated under OLD programs are generally upwardly compatible with the NEW version, but NEW is rarely downwardly compatible (unless it’s a programmed save, which requires the NEW program version).

    Computers have certainly improved since my introduction to them. The main-frame I used at university required punch-cards to input data. (Heaven forbid you dropped a stack of those on the way to processing drop-off; you might as well start over.) Next came a PDP-8 which had no hard drive, only RAM, and a program had to be loaded (via fan-fold punched paper ribbon) each time one wanted to run it. The processor box was about the size of a PC, but it required a teletype, about the size of a small refrigerator, for input/output.

    Things improved somewhat when the XP materialized. (That’s approximately what the HP desk-top guy was referring to.) If I remember correctly it had a 20MB hard drive, 256K RAM and came with a 14″ monochrome amber CRT, 5 1/4 floppy dive; and mine with a 9-pin dot matrix printer. That one set me back, with discount, a mere $2,600 in the early ’80s.

    Last summer I bit the bullet and (somewhat reluctantly) disposed of accumulated PC’s (286, 486, Pentium 3+4) along with much of the accumulated data. They were all still working, but definitely out of date. Now lost are an accumulated 6 months of custom AutoCAD programs and menus which are incompatible with current versions. I decided I’m now retired and intending to move to Panama, and don’t need the excess baggage.

    I’m still trying to learn all the capabilities of a NEW iMAC (different operating system, peculiar monikers for things, and no manual supplied); tough for an old fart like me; but I manage to stumble along.

    Richard, if it helps, your new computer works out to an expense of two-bits per day; I hazard a modest sum for the pleasure provided.

    I agree with you that “New” is not synonymous with “better.” However, when the computer you have is approaching four or more years of age and essentially shits the bed you really DO need to get a NEW one. I’ve never had any complaints with my HP computers. Are they better than other makes? I don’t know. I just know mine have done what I’ve wanted them to do and this one is less than half the price of a Mac.

    Mac users are generally rather smug about their purchases and one reason they site for their choice is “Mac’s don’t get viruses.” Well, we all know that’s complete bullshit. True they don’t get many but there’s a reason for that. In the scheme of the world Macs are a tiny drop in the bucket compared to Windows-run machines so for most hackers they haven’t been “cost-effective” to hack into them, so to speak. But you can bet your entire retirement fund that there’s some kid shivering away in some cold room in Albania or Bulgaria writing code to tap into those Macs. Bet on it.

    I hope you’re not one of those people who think the end-all and be-all of retiring to Panama is Boquete. Do you have any idea where you’re thinking of going?

    • Rick Rueter


      Mac is a little bit of razzle-dazzle, looks great and (fingers crossed) hopefully works to my expectations; time will tell. Former co-workers (and step-kids) are converts and swear by them. I’m willing to give it a try.

      Right now I’ve got my eyes on a house in Coronado as a seemingly pleasant place to hang my hat for the short term at least; will have to check it out (assuming it’s still available) when I have an agreement to purchase my current house. Would like to build my own (modest) place once the country is properly scouted out, a chunk of land purchased, and have factored in the the manana syndrome to realize the final product. Will have to investigate local building regulations to see if what I want can be built, otherwise revise plans somewhat.

      If this falls through maybe I’ll just buy a boat to live on; could be lots worse.